Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Primo Pasta? Andrea Bargnani Will Not Start on Opening Night for the Knicks

Changing roles: Bargnani started in the preseason, but could come off the bench for New York on Opening Night.
Look away, Knicks fans, Andrea Bargnani appears to be entering the season in a haze of uncertainty. Having started all seven of New York's exhibition games (in which the Knicks managed a 2-5 record), reports have emerged that the floor-spacing big man may open the season as a bench contributor. The 7"0 Italian battled recurring shooting woes through the course of the preseason, including a final outing against Charlotte that saw him finish 2-10 from the field with 7pts, in 27 minutes of playing time. Bargnani arrived at Madison Square Garden in July as part of a trade with Toronto that sent Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson (both since waived), Steve Novak, and a slew of future draft picks to the Raptors. The executed trade, it is worth noting, was engineered by the then-leading man of the Knicks' front office - Glen Grunwald - who has since been fired. Regardless of reasoning, the fact that the organisation dismissed its President and General Manager (Grunwald held both positions) only 10 weeks after the roster shakeup does not serve as a glowing reflection upon the departing executive. Grunwald exits having assembled a Knicks cast that gathered the team's highest win total (54) since the '96-97 season, and achieved its first playoff series victory in 13 years.

Trialling training camp invitees and experimenting with rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. and recent acquisitions Beno Udrih and Metta World Peace, the Knicks wielded a number of different, eclectic lineups in the foggy irrelevance of October basketball. Unsurprisingly, this produced varying, sometimes eyebrow-raising results, including a 30pt rout at the hands of Boston in Manchester, New Hampshire. Frequently, Bargnani was slotted alongside Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, asked to provide added scoring punch, stretch the opposition defense, and remain a 3rd or 4th option on offense. The former #1 overall pick holds a reputation of a sharpshooting seven-footer, despite failing the reach the 37% mark on 3pt field goal attempts since 2009. He appeared in only 35 games for Toronto last season, constantly fighting injury and struggling to stay on the floor. This offseason, the Italian missed five weeks with a bout of pneumonia, and managed nagging back complaints in training camp. Meanwhile, Bargnani lofted an unhealthy average of 3.5 treys per contest last year, now joining a team that set the NBA record for the number of long-range attempts (2,371) throughout a regular season

He is a player whom intense scrutiny seems to inevitably follow, if for nothing else but his high-draft expectation and annual $11M salary. Bargnani wrapped up his preseason with numbers of 24 of 63 from the field (38%), and having misfired on 12 of his 15 three-point launches. The Knicks headed toward 2013-14 knowing that three players were assured of starting roles - Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, and Raymond Felton. In the preseason, Bargnani started in lineups with this trio, occasionally with Pablo Prigioni, and at times with the defensive-minded Iman Shumpert. The team's most successful stretch in 2012-13 occurred when Pablo Prigioni was inserted as a starting staple, assisting the Knicks on an historic 12 game win streak in March-April. A confidence player, and one not shy about expressing his opinion on team situations, New York's newfound #77 looks set to have the comfort of his starting role usurped. New York will open their season tonight by hosting Milwaukee, and it appears head coach Mike Woodson will roll out a lineup substituting the Italian for the active hands of either Prigioni, or Metta World Peace. 

With fellow pricy big man Amar'e Stoudemire suffering persistent knee issues, veteran Kenyon Martin unlikely to feature in back-to-back games, and guard J.R. Smith sidelined for the first five games due to a violation of the league's drugs policy, much of the Knicks' early season success will be dependent on the productivity and contributions of Bargnani. New York will hope (pray?) that the somewhat sudden reshuffle does not throw the foreign product further off course, as the franchise looks to build upon its Atlantic Division crown from a season ago.

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